Animated tales

Animated tales

Pixar senior animator Andrew Gordon is making his way down under for SP10 in August. We caught him in June to ask about the future of Andy, Buzz and Mr Incredible.

Andrew Gordon started at Pixar in 1997, on the animation studio's second feature, A Bug's Life. Now senior animator, Gordon is heading to New Zealand for SP10

Andrew Gordon

You've worked on some of the biggest animated films of all time. How did you get your start?

I was interested in animation when my parents bought the family computer, a Tandy 1000. To tell you the truth, my interest in computer graphics came from playing Sierra online games such as King's Quest and Space Quest. I wanted to know how they did the animation and graphics and I just started to copy them using a tool called Deluxe Paint. I realised that if I bought a computer called an Amiga, I could delve into a much more complex world of computer graphics and animation. That computer was so far ahead of its time.

I knew that Pixar was my dream job and I always wanted to work there. I read somewhere that they wanted animators, not computer artists, so I went to animation school in Vancouver. I learned animation the traditional way and was quickly hired at Warner Brothers. I stayed there two years and then got my dream job at Pixar.

I wish I had applied to Pixar when it was doing Toy Story but I didn't think I had what it took at the time.

What's it like working at Pixar?

Pixar is and has always been a very fun place to work. In the early days it was akin to working in a college frat house. We were young and loud. Our workspace looked like a shantytown. We would always play pranks on each other and just in general have a lot of fun.

Pixar fosters creativity. It really is a place where it's up to you to decide what you want to pursue. There are so many classes going on daily and we have a great internal lecture site that lets the people working watch some amazing material.

It's always about the collection of people, and the leadership that shapes a company. John Lasseter and Ed Catmull have always been the figures that were inspiring and who let artistic freedom blossom and grow.

I often wonder how creative companies turn into corporate places. The danger is always there especially when you become big and successful. The trick is figuring out how not to rest on your laurels and stay scrappy.

Linguini

Your portfolio of memorable animated characters includes Edna Mode (The Incredibles) and Linguini (Ratatouille). How do you go about building up a character visually?

I do as much research as I can, much like an actor. I surround myself with images, film clips, art and anything in general that will inspire me. Then I begin the process of animating many tests to get a feel for how the character moves and acts.

A fun part of the research is going out in the real world. For Finding Nemo, I learned to dive and we had experts on fish locomotion come in. For Ratatouille, we learned to cook and observed rat movement. In essence, you want to become an expert on whatever thing you are animating.

If you are animating just a character like Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc or Edna, it becomes more about character traits. Mike was basically an eyeball with legs, so research was done to figure out how an eye could look organic. Edna was a character who was over the top in terms of acting, so we took cues from films like Sunset Boulevard. In the end you are trying to create a memorable performance that is not repetitive.

The Academy Award for animated features was introduced in 2001, and they have swiftly developed into critical as well as commercial successes over the past ten years. Where do you predict the industry will head next?

Animation has always been considered family entertainment but with films like Avatar bridging the gap with digital performance it really opens up a whole new realm of what is possible.

Digital characters that are unlike any character we have seen on screen will be very popular. I also feel the characters will continue to push the boundary in terms of design and articulation.

I wonder if the use of motion capture will somehow find its way onto the animator's desk, much like the USB camera has helped. I don't ever think motion capture will replace animation, but it might be another tool in the arsenal of an animator.

Get a permanent

Local design studio The Church brought Semi-Permanent to our shores in 2004, and is firing up the 2010 event on August 20 and 21.

It’s always an outstanding experience, so get your creative juices flowing with such speakers as German product designer Katrin Sonnleiter and Karen Walker and Mikhail Gherman, Dick and Otis Frizzell, New York illustrator Jessica Hische, animators Buck.TV from New York, interactive agency Poke from London, and many more.